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by Allison Montclair
Minotaur, June 2019
336 pages
ISBN: 1250178363

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

London in 1946 is a place of bombed-out buildings, strict rations, and, if Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge are anything to go by, savvy survivors. Meeting by chance and not having much in common other than intelligence and an ability to judge people accurately and quickly, the two decide to set up a marriage agency. In short order, one of their clients is murdered and the police are convinced that the man Iris and Gwen set the woman up with is the murderer. Iris and Gwen are equally convinced that the man is not guilty, and they begin their own investigation, hoping to save both his life and their agency. Along the way, they discover that they also need to save themselves, seeing as how neither came through the war unscathed.

THE RIGHT SORT OF MAN is well researched, and Allison Montclair expertly evokes a London scrambling to recover from the war. She shows the reader trams, boarded-up buildings, and Victory Gardens. She tells of the rare taste of whiskey and bread thinly sliced because grains are in short supply. But she weaves such details into the overall landscape, depicting the hardships merely as reality , thus making them more believable and, at the same time, showing the strengths and ingenuity of her characters as they deal with that reality.

For her heroines, Montclair creates a young woman who served in secret service who still harbors many secrets and a war widow with a young son and secrets of her own. Both are struggling with demons—real and psychological—which leads to some good character development. In the beginning of the novel, the two women have less distinction than they do by the end, but that is remedied fairly quickly. Part of the lack of distinction lies in that both are spunky and intelligent, characteristics that make them interesting enough to stick with as they gradually step into their more defined roles. Montclair's more minor characters are also well drawn and fun to spend time with, and even the characters on the side of evil have a bit of charm.

As for the plot, it is well paced and twisting enough to keep the reader guessing right to the end. In addition to the murder mystery, Montclair includes some gangster crime which adds nicely to the confusion of who's guilty and of what. But Montclair sprinkles in enough clues that suspicions arise in all the right places, so the ending is believable while still being surprising.

In addition to solving the crimes, Gwen and Iris begin to deal with some of the traumas from their own pasts and forge a friendship that seems to promise more adventures, and perhaps a bit of romance for themselves, in the future. With such engaging characters, an interesting setting, and the potential of further captivating plots, THE RIGHT SORT OF MAN seems the perfect set-up for a delightful series.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, May 2019

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